In case you haven’t noticed, the sexual revolution hit the accelerated lane this month when Netflix, a very popular streaming service that boasts more than 192 million subscribers, released a critically-acclaimed, feature-length film called “Cuties.” The movie was announced last month on social media with this description:
“Amy, 11, becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew. Hoping to join them, she starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.”
What was particularly egregious about this particular social media ad was the picture accompanying it (intentionally not linked). The ad featured a picture of several 11-year-old girls in tight-fitting clothing, posing very suggestively.
I wrote a very critical piece at CBMW.org based on the movie’s description in a Netflix social media campaign. I wasn’t the only one alarmed, as negative pieces ran in First Things, The American Conservative, and elsewhere that called for the movie to be pulled on the grounds of promoting pedophilia.
But the most alarming part about the ensuing controversy was how the media class ran interference for Netflix and the movie. Many in the media defended the movie, and at least one media outlet called the backlash a “right wing campaign” and another “conservative outrage.” Their defense was that the point of the movie is to highlight how young girls are being sexualized too early in order to condemn it, similar to when movies depict violence on the big screen. But as one observer noted, you don’t actually kill someone in order to portray murder in a movie; you don’t actually let dogs fight to the death in order to portray dog fighting in a movie.
Much of the movie’s defense came before its release this month. But when “Cuties” was released, the movie was revealed to be worse than its critics had imagined. The movie is so explicit that it qualifies as child pornography under US Federal law. You could rightfully be arrested if you had similar images on your computer, and Netflix is streaming it into millions of living rooms. This revelation prompted Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to call on the Department of Justice to investigate the movie. Democrat Tulsi Gabbard added her voice as well to the condemnation of the movie.
What Underwrites the Sexual Revolution
How did we as a society get here, where pedophilia is actively being promoted by one of the most popular media companies today? I would argue that it has to do with the cultural normalization of deviancy. For something to be deviant, which in past ages included things like homosexuality and cross-dressing transgenderism, it must be avant-garde, or abnormal. That is part of its appeal to sinful nature. But what happens when what was once considered deviant is normalized, and someone sets out to be “deviant”? They must go outside of what society considers to be acceptable. This is a kind of Overton-window theory of morality, and what we have seen this month is the window shifting rapidly. This was the playbook of the sexual revolution — it was all about normalization of deviancy. It’s why the revolution didn’t stay content with the legalization of gay marriage, or transgender rights, and why we can be sure it won’t stop with the normalization of polyamory or pedophilia.
But there is something even deeper at the root of this sexual revolution, and it may be surprising to the uninitiated: critical theory. What does critical theory have to do with the sexual revolution? Carl Trueman wrote about it at First Things earlier this year in an article titled, “Queer Times.”
“[I’m reminded] of the many years I spent trying to understand the various approaches to culture that fall under the umbrella term of Critical Theory. Queer Theory is one of the most significant of these approaches. Wading through the pretentiously written and interminably opaque prose always left me wondering: What exactly is the endgame here? What do these people want in terms of positive philosophical and political construction? I eventually concluded that the answer was really quite simple: The purpose of critical theory is not to establish anything at all. Rather, it is to destabilize as potentially oppressive any claim to transcendent truth or value.”
Mark my words: one of the “oppressive” values that critical theorists will attempt to overthrow is the stigma — both cultural and legal — surrounding adult-minor sexual relations. This effort is what we saw this month with the release of “Cuties,” and it is happening elsewhere. Just look what California’s very progressive legislator and governor passed into law last week regarding the sexual exploitation of minors.
Critical theory is perhaps the most significant challenge facing biblical sexual ethics today. We would do well to heed Trueman’s words here:
“The debate over LGBTQ issues is not a debate about sexual behavior. I suspect it is not really at this point a debate with the L, the G, or the B. It is the T and the Q that are carrying the day, and we need to understand that the debate is about the radical abolition of metaphysics and metanarratives and any notion of cultural stability that might rest thereupon. Until we clarify that and adjust our strategy of engagement accordingly, we cannot develop the arguments needed to persuade our fellow Christians of the truth, let alone anyone else.”
In other words, what we face is a fundamentally theological challenge. This is a debate about God, his world, and his will. We must be ready to give an answer. Our aim at CBMW is to help you to do so.